There were not many things that kept me up at night as a child — maybe how I’d lost a pog battle earlier that day, the rising price of chips and donuts worried me a little, but most definitely the rotting flesh and maniacal cackle of an animated corpse haunted my prepubescent mind, and still does to this day. That’s right, I am speaking of The Crypt Keeper, that animatronic puppet who is one of the best television show-hosts ever, gracing our screens with comedy and horror on tap while introducing each vignette on Tales From The Crypt.
When I heard that the Midsummer Scream convention — a summit celebrating all things horror and Halloween — would be featuring a panel talking about the ins and outs of that sinister but slightly silly 90’s show, Tales From The Crypt, I jumped at the chance to attend. This panel was packed, both in its audience which nearly filled the grand ballroom at the Long Beach Convention Center, as well as in the panel’s lineup. Participants included production designer Gregory Melton (The Walking Dead, Marvel: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), director William Malone (House on Haunted Hill, Masters of Horror), director Ernest R. Dickinson (Bones, The Walking Dead), special effects artist Richard Edlund (Star Wars, Poltergeist), and of course the infamous voice of The Crypt Creeper himself, John Kassir. All of the panelists shared how they have been lifelong horror fans, and even fans of the original EC (“Educational Comics”) books which the series is based upon, all of which lead them to being a part of this incredible show.
In the summer of 1989, HBO premiered this horror anthology series, an uncensored and untamed horror television show that was based on totally nasty and creepy comics from the 1940s through the ’60s. As the show became a hit amongst horror-starved audiences, HBO realized that they had to make this a regular series. In comes the 5 gents listed above to keep the core of the show moving into its eventual cult classic status, along with famous guest directors such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Robert Zemeckis. Telling stories of horror and the horrible side of human beings, Tales From the Crypt is based on EC stories, which even Mad Magazine stopped promoting due to its controversial nature and belief that it caused juvenile delinquency. Luckily, an intrepid and delinquent crew with solid horror backgrounds would eventually unearth the remains of this canceled comic and create the show we know and love.
Panel participants shared their inspirations in creating some of the series’ episodes. Ernest R. Dickinson, for example, pulled from his love of anime features and their frequent tentacle imagery which inspired the vivid and explicit visuals in his episodes, and he even recounted being inspired by Menace To Society (1993) and its visceral storytelling. Production Designer Gregory Melton joked that he used ‘gum and twine’ method, meaning he used whatever was at hand in order to create what we see on screen. The panel also relayed fun facts about the background and production mishaps of making this show that aired in the wee hours of the night. Richard Edlund, who created the memorable opening sequence of Tales From The Crypt, shared how he built a model home for the opening sequence, shooting what we see on a brilliantly built miniature set and speeding it up to 24 frames per second — movie magic. The intro is what is most memorable to me, terrifying me before a single frame of the stories ever began.